patterns and their names
excerpt from the book ‘UKILI – Plaiting in Zanzibar’ by Antje Förstle
The patterns collected for this publication represent the current pool
of patterns available on the islands of Zanzibar and Mafia, as well as
the coast of mainland Tanzania. Some of them are exceptionally popular,
and the practiced eye will recognize their repetitions. But others are
much rarer, some of which might eventually disappear altogether from
All patterns have specific names which may be identical across regions,
whereas sometimes, their names might differ greatly from one region
to another. What might be called tibu (the perfume) in one region might
be called mguu wa simba (the lion’s paw) in another. Some names
speak for themselves while the meaning of others is difficult to decipher.
The weavers then only say “it’s just a name.” Often, these are older
patterns which might have their origin in a region with a different dialect.
Some patterns’ names allow a glimpse into the history and development
of the country, for example names such as ‘soldier’s buttons’ or ‘the bicycle
pedal’. A pattern that evolved later, ‘the bra’s buckle’, is often said with
a giggle, the hand covering the mouth.